We got off to a bad start in La Paz. It was raining cats and dogs as we arrived in town as the last night of a raging festival was in full swing with loud speakers blaring jarring music and streets littered with shmutz stinking from beer mixed with confetti, streamers and urine. Finding a hotel/hostal had proved difficult due to the busy festival and we had decided to wing it. As I said in the last post, our cab dropped us off a couple of blocks away from the Hostal Milton, which had received reviews like “Good choice for the price.” and “Not bad considering the choices in La Paz in this price range”. We had been on the bus all day and we’re tired and cranky when I took a look at the room. It was clean and cheap and it would do for at least one night until we got our bearings.
We got settled and went out in search of day trips to Tiawanaku, the last set of ruins on our list. Tiawanuku is said to be the oldest of the pre Incan sites — where it all began. We were extremely lucky and found a tour with an amazing guide who brought the history of the Tiawanaku civilization to life.
One of the things we are continually impressed with after several visits to Incan and pre-Incan sites is these civilizations’ division of life into three spheres. The life above represented by the condor flying free in the skies above, the life on earth represented by the puma and the life below the earth represented by the serpent. In Tiawanku we visited a temple representing the underworld. What we found there were depictions of what I thought was something like Noah’s ark. The walls of the depressed chamber contained carvings of faces, hundreds and hundreds of faces, all different. Some were people, some animals. The explanation we received was that these were images of spirits that would be reborn. Their belief of the underworld is not of hell, fire and brimstone, but of rebirth. Just walking around the structure looking at the faces was amazingly spiritual for me.
The next day we spent visiting museums and churches which are always a must in any large city we spend a few days in. Two notable visits were to the Coca Museum and the MUSEF (Museum of Ethnology and Folklore). Unfortunately, both did not allow photos, which was really frustrating. Especially MUSEF. The Coca Museum was very informative about the ancient ceremonial and therapeutic uses of coca as well as the political evolution of the use and misuse of coca after the Spanish arrived on the scene as well as multinational corporations, the likes of Coca Cola, who continue to take advantage of their clout in Bolivia. MUSEF simply blew me away. I have never been in a folklore museum so well curated and so full of amazing artifacts. Drawers and drawers of weaving pattern samples from villages all over the region — and no documentation in English and no photos allowed. I was in agony!! The museum covered weaving, pottery, feather work, masks of all kinds and musical instruments. Each area had a video component as well, which showed you how the villagers today still follow ancient traditions. Totally fascinating, even though I could not understand any of the documentation.
On our third day we bid the Hotel Milton good by and good riddance and moved into the Hotel Rosario, which is a museum in its own right. The Hotel was designed by artists with common walls of the hotel as well as the guest rooms adorned with beautiful fiber artworks. They took my breath away because they were modern pieces using found archival and tourist level weavings and trinkets. I had not seen anything like it thus far in Peru or Bolivia and I was very impressed. The pieces were produced specifically for the Hotel, so when I asked where I could find similar work, the answer was that these were in fact unique and commissioned for the Hotel. I imagine if I pressed a bit harder I would have found the artists, but of course, I would have no where to put any of these beautiful works, so I did my usual and took photos to remember them virtually rather than physically.
Behind the hotel is the local market where the indegineous people who have migrated from their farming communities to the city for hope of a better life do all of their shopping. We walked through the market for a couple of hours completely fascinated by the scene unfolding in front of our eyes. I was snapping photos like crazy trying to be discrete!
We did a city tour that afternoon on a double decker bus with earphones linked to information in many languages. Aside from filling in a lot of blanks about La Paz from a cultural and political point of view, and taking us through several neighbourhoods in the sprawling city, it also delivered us to the Valley of the Moon. This is a very interesting geological phenomenon just outside of the city limits. The attraction has been Disneyized unfortunately, and it felt a bit more like a set for a movie than then a natural site, but we enjoyed it anyways and took lots of photos!
On the way back from our tour we chanced on a great pub/restaurant called Sol Y Luna, where of all things, we had a middle eastern plate of hummus, babaganush, tsastiki, olives, and pita with a local beer they had on draft. We had had other great local fare in La Paz, but this just hit the spot, especially since everything was almost authentic!
Sadly the next morning we had to check out of the wonderful Hotel Rosario knowing the next few stops along the way would not have accommodations as comfortable, breakfasts as tasty, or hotel staff as accommodating.
Our next destination was Oruro, which proved to be so unremarkable that even though we contemplated staying two nights, we backed out of our reservation only to get on a bus to Potosi, which we liked even less if that is at all possible. Both towns offered us horrible accommodations at inflated prices. What I will probably remember most about Potosi is that I stepped in a large pile of dog poop just outside our hotel, which took me a good part of the afternoon to get out of the deeply treaded walking shoes!
The good news is that our next stop was Sucre, a mere 12 hour all night bus ride away. And even with that ominous introduction, our stay there was glorious from every perspective.